Would You Fight Again? Understanding Liberian Ex-Combatant Reintegration

One of the frequently used tools in the post-conflict toolbox to prevent ex-combatants from returning to conflict is “demobilization, disarmament, rehabilitation, and reintegration” (DDRR) programming, supported by the international community. But frequent recidivism and the failure of ex-combatants in many post-conflict societies to become productive citizens is leading to efforts to better understand the motives and the psychosocial dynamics that affect ex-combatants’ decisions following the end of a conflict-especially decisions concerning a possible return to violence. While most studies of DDRR programs focus on tallying participants and gauging the effectiveness of vocational training, few have focused on how the ex-combatants themselves see their own reintegration, their future, and the issues that could compel them to rejoin a fighting faction. Thus, there has been minimal understanding of how ex-combatants’ personal characteristics and experiences during and after conflict affect their choices and attitudes toward reintegrating into society or resuming violent activities. The authors led an initiative to listen to ex-combatants in war-ravaged Lofa County, Liberia, and in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, to identify the key factors affecting their choice of whether to build a life as a civilian or explore taking up arms again. CHF International, a U.S.-based international development organization, received a grant from the United States Institute of Peace to examine reintegration dynamics in Lofa County and later extended the research to Monrovia. The research, based on a survey administered to more than 1,400 ex-combatants, builds on recent efforts by others to hear the opinions of combatants and ex-combatants.1 While the research encompassed multiple aspects of ex-combatants’ economic and social reintegration, the focus here narrows to a single subject: the likelihood and potential causes of ex-combatants’ return to combat.